Life and Prayer

+ Archbishop Anthony Bloom

I would like to say a few words on the relation that exists, not in general terms but somewhat distinctly, between life and prayer, approaching this question from a hitherto unexplored angle. All too often the life we lead testifies against the prayer we offer, and it is only when we have managed to harmonize the terms of our prayer, with our way of life, that our prayer acquires the strength, the splendor and the efficacy which we expect it to yield.

All too often we address the Lord hoping that He will do what we ought to do in His name and in His service. All too often our prayers are elegant, well-prepared discourses, grown stale moreover with the passing of centuries, which we offer to the Lord from day to day, as if it sufficed to repeat to Him from year to year -- with a cold heart and a dull mind -- ardent words that were born in the desert and the wilderness, in the greatest of human sufferings, in the most intense situations that history has ever known.

We reiterate prayers bearing the names of the great spiritual leaders, and we believe that God listens to them, that he takes account of their content -- whereas the only thing that matters to the Lord is the heart of the person addressing Him, the will straining to do His will.

We say: “Lord, lead us not into temptation”; then, with a light step, eager and full of hope, we go straight to where temptation lies in wait for us. Or else we cry: “Lord, Lord, my heart is ready”.  But (ready) for what?  If the Lord were to ask us this question one evening when we have said these words before going to bed, would we not sometimes be obliged to answer “ready to finish the chapter I have begun in this detective novel”. At that moment it is the only thing for which our hearts are ready.  And there are so many occasions on which our prayer remains a dead letter, a letter that kills moreover, because each time we allow our prayer to be dead, instead of making us alive and yielding to us the intensity which it possesses intrinsically, we become increasingly less sensitive to its drive, its impact, and increasingly incapable of living the prayer we utter.

This raises a problem which must be resolved in the life of each individual; we have to transform the terms of our prayer into rules of life. If we have told the Lord that we are seeking His help in order to resist temptation, we have to avoid every occasion of temptation with all the energy of our soul, with all the strength at our disposal. If we have told the Lord that we are heartbroken at the thought that someone is hungry, thirsty or lonely, we must, however, listen to the voice of the Lord replying: “Whom shall I send?,” and stand before him saying: “Here I am, Lord,” and become active without delay. We should never delay sufficiently to allow a superfluous thought to creep into our good intention, placing itself between God's injunction and the action we are about to perform, because the thought that then slips in like a serpent will immediately suggest to us: “Later,” or “Do I really have to? Can't God choose someone who is more free to do his will than I am?” And while we "beat about the bush," the energy which prayer and the divine response had communicated to us will fade away and die within us.

So here we are dealing with something essential, namely a link we have to establish between life and prayer through an act of will, an act which we ourselves perform, which will never be accomplished on its own and can nonetheless transform our lives most profoundly. Read the prayers that are set out for you in the morning and evening office. Select any one of these prayers and make it a rule of life; you will then see that this prayer will never become boring or stale, because with each passing day it will be sharpened, quickened by life itself. Once you have asked the Lord to protect you throughout the day against some compulsion, temptation or difficulty which you have made it your duty to overcome to the best of your ability and despite your human weakness, and your being is filled like a mainsail with the divine breath and power, you will have many things to tell God when you stand before Him in the evening. You will have to thank Him for the help you have received, you will have to repent for the use you have made of it; you will be able to rejoice that He has given you the strength to do His will with your own weak and frail hands, your poor human hands, and allowed you to be His seeing gaze, His heedful ear, His footstep, His love, His incarnate, living, creative compassion.

Now here is something that can only be achieved through individual effort, and unless this effort is made, life and prayer become dissociated. For a while life carries on as usual, and prayer continues its droning which becomes less and less distinct, less and less disquieting for our conscience; the steadfastness of prayer decreases. And since life makes demands on us whereas prayer comes from God, a timid, loving God who calls us and never imposes Himself on us by brute force, the result is that prayer fades away. Then we console ourselves by saying that we have now embodied our prayer in action; the work of our hands alone represents our worship. 

Yet this is not the attitude we adopt towards our friends, our parents, and those we love. Indeed, on occasions, perhaps always, we do everything we ought to do for their sake; but does this imply that we forget them in our hearts, that our thoughts never turn to them? Of course not! Could it be that God alone enjoys that privilege of being served without ever receiving a glance from us, without our hearts ever becoming fervent and loving at the sound of His Name?   Could it be that God alone is served with indifference? This question gives us something to think about and something to achieve.